Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday on the Mall

The gay rights march and rally in Washington yesterday turned out a lot more people than expected.

Thousands of people marched from McPherson Square, a few blocks from the White House, down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting “President Obama: Let mama marry mama!” and “L, G, B, T — We demand equality!”

Marchers carried signs reading “We Won’t Wait for Full Equality” and “Mind Your Own Marriage.” Spectators watched from the street and the roof of the Newseum, many cheering the participants. As the march ended about 2:30 p.m., people gathered on Capitol Hill for a rally.

Many supporters identified themselves as heterosexual, carrying signs with such slogans as “I’m Not Queer But I’m Here.”

Organizers seemed surprised by the turnout.

And, as Steve Benen says, they did it without having a cable news channel promoting it (coverage on C-SPAN doesn’t count) or corporate lobbyists shipping in activists, either. I watched some of the speeches at the rally, and while there was definitely a tone of impatience, it wasn’t just directed at what some marchers felt was the slow pace at which President Obama is moving to end the discrimination embedded in DADT and the irony-laden Defense of Marriage Act. (As the Reid Report notes, it’s not just a simple matter of signing an executive order.) It was a rally to raise the awareness that we in the LGBT community are as much a part of life in everyday America as anyone else — the mythical “gay lifestyle” is really just life — and that we are entitled to be treated as such.

There was none of the vitriol and rage that we saw from the tea-partiers last month; it looked to be a good-natured, even celebratory crowd. It is an interesting contrast; the tea-partiers carried on against imagined and mythical threats to their freedom, while the LGBT community, which already knows what it’s like to be treated as second-class citizens, made their case in simple and honest terms: we’re citizens, we pay our taxes, we raise our families, we do our jobs and we do all the things that citizenship requires of us, yet we are still denied our basic equal rights. If any group feels entitled to at least be upset about trashing the Constitution, it should be us, not the tea-partiers who wouldn’t know a Socialist from a pound of putty.

Some of the community, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), said the march was a “waste of time” and that instead of marching on the Mall, the LGBT community should be in Congress lobbying. I think he has a point; changing the laws by putting a personal touch on it works. But I can’t help but think that even if patience and individual contact with lawmakers is effective, so is making your voice heard — politely — in public. You can’t say that Dr. King didn’t up the ante for civil rights when he gave his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. A year later the civil rights laws were passed, and Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize.